With news coming out in a constant torrent, instead of holding it back like it's been done in the past - this is the start of something new - dispatches from the state Capitol. (Don't worry the 800-word pieces will be returning soon as well.)
Florida House Republicans _ already caught up in an escalating feud with Gov. Rick Scott over the future of business subsidies (incentives, corporate welfare, taxpayer money take your pick) _ are holding a behind-closed doors reception Wednesday night at the upscale Edison Restaurant located a stone's throw from the state Capitol.
This marks the first time that the House Republican caucus has gathered by itself since last fall's election, according to House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues.
Rodrigues maintains that the entire event is strictly social in nature and there won't be any discussion of policy. He noted that the GOP caucus in the House has a lot of freshmen in its class.
"The majority caucus wants to make sure our members have an opportunity to interact with each other,'' Rodrigues said.
Rodrigues said that the entire event at the Edison is being paid out of a House Majority account maintained by the Republican Party of Florida. An invitation to the event that was sent out on the House Majority office email account that "heavy hors d'oeuvrs and beverages will be served."
When asked about why House Republicans chose the Edison, Rodrigues said that it was because their first choice - the Hotel Duval - was not available. He said they wanted to have the reception at a place that both a private room and an outside patio area.
The Edison of course has had a complicated history here in Tallahassee with some activists upset that the restaurant was constructed in Cascades Park with the help of more than $2 million from the city and a local community redevelopment agency.
Rodrigues said he was totally unaware of the controversy.
"I don't follow Tallahassee politics, that's news to me,'' Rodrigues said.
House Republicans led by Speaker Richard Corcoran are charging ahead with a plan to eliminate Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing arm, and Enterprise Florida, the agency charged with helping lure companies to the state. Gov. Scott has shown his extreme displeasure with the idea and in the last week has chastised his fellow Republicans, even going so far as to visit the hometowns of some Republican members and call them out by name. He has accused House members of voting to kill jobs. Corcoran and other Republicans so far are bucking the governor and have maintained that both agencies are poorly run and that government should not be picking "winners and losers" by helping out some businesses.
also worth pointing out: The event is being paid by the RPOF - which itself is led by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia - which means the money is coming from donors. Donors generally include lobbyists and special interests. Corcoran has also railed about the influence of lobbyists and special interests and has come up with tough ethics restrictions when it comes to interactions between lobbyists and legislators.
UPDATE: While Rodrigues said the meeting would be entirely social, the Tampa Bay Times reported late Wednesday that during the gathering Corcoran showed a five-minute video to the Republicans that criticized Enterprise Florida. A spokesman for Corcoran maintained that this was allowed and did not run afoul of the state's open-meeting laws. Corcoran has vowed that as speaker he would hold to higher standards and make it more transparent and accessible.